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One of the known risks of becoming reformed is that you sometimes have to re-examine some of your long held beliefs about what the Bible actually teaches. This is certainly the case when it comes to the mode of baptism.

Most Americans equate baptism with immersion, so they are surprised (sometimes even offended!) when they witness their first baptism in a reformed church.

While reformed Ministers do believe that baptisms by immersion are appropriate, they would never insist that they are necessary. Reformed Pastors are just as happy to pour or sprinkle.

The usual Baptist response goes something like this: “Well, that’s just because the original Protestant Reformers still had some sympathies toward the Roman Catholic Church!”

Nothing could be further from the truth. All the Reformers identified the Pope of Rome as the Antichrist (an observation with which this reformed Pastor most heartily agrees).

The actual reason we do not insist on baptism by immersion is because the Bible does not insist on it.

Yes, this is where the conversation usually tends to get long and complicated, but let me just share a few verses from the NT which prove that things can indeed be “baptized” without being completely immersed in water.

“I indeed have baptized [ebaptisa] you with water: but he shall baptize [baptisei] you with the Holy Ghost.”

Mark 1:8

While John may have immersed people, the NT never describes the Spirit’s mode of action as immersing, but as “come upon”, “pour out”, “shed forth”, and “fell on” (Acts 1:8; 2:17,33; 10:44; 11:15). Yet both acts are called baptism.

“And when they come from the market, except they wash [baptisontai], they eat not. And many other things there be, which they have received to hold, as the washing [baptismous] of cups, and pots, brasen vessels, and of tables.”

Mark 7:4

While it is possible that the pharisees’ pre-dinner hand baptizing ceremony involved dipping their hands into water, there is no way they immersed entire dinner tables. Yet both actions are called baptism.

“Which stood only in meats and drinks, and divers washings [baptismois], and carnal ordinances, imposed on them until the time of reformation.” 

Hebrews 9:10

If you keep reading the chapter, you quickly find three examples of these “divers baptisms” given in vv. 13, 19, and 21 where the words “sprinkling” and “sprinkled” are used. Yet still these washings are called baptism.

“And were all baptized [ebaptisanto] unto Moses in the cloud and in the sea.”

1 Corinthians 10:2

The church in the wilderness was certainly not “immersed” into Moses, they did not even get wet while walking through the sea, and nothing is ever said about them entering the cloud in any way. Yet all three are called baptism.

So here is the big question: If “baptism” can mean washing, sprinkling, pouring, and becoming connected unto someone or something in these verses… then why can it not also mean that in other verses?

Thanks for at least thinking about it.

– Pastor Christian McShaffrey